The Story
The Story

Part of her freight cargo is known to have consisted of somewhere between 410 and 650 tons of military supplies consigned to the Supply Vessel Culgoa of the Great White Battleship Fleet, then at Gibraltar. At least a part of these supplies were to replace the fleet's supplies which had been distributed to the earthquake victims at Messina.

As she proceeded through a thick fog off Nantucket, the REPUBLIC was struck at 5:40 am. Saturday, January 23, on the port (left) side amidships.


What happened in the engine room of the Republic when sudden sharp orders began to come from the bridge, to be followed almost immediately by the crash of the Florida's bow as it forced its way through the Republic's side and into the midst of the startled watch in the engine room, was told yesterday afternoon [upon the Baltic's arrival in New York on January 25th, 1909] by two oilers from the Republic, John Hart and Thomas McInerny, the former narrating and the latter corroborating.

"The second engineer was in charge in the engine room and the fourth engineer, Mr. Lagg, was standing by," said Hart. "I was on duty at the main engine and McInerny was at the refrigerating engine. It was between half-past five and ten minutes to six, and we were proceeding under reduced speed. Suddenly the telegraph from the bridge sounded 'stop.' A minute later the order came, 'Full speed astern.' The propellers had not been turning sixty seconds when 'Full speed ahead' was ordered.

"Then in less time than it takes to tell came a terrible crash on the port side, and an instant later the big stem of a ship crashed through the steel plates, outer and inner, shoving aside frames and forcing its way in to within five yards of where I was standing. The vessel tore away everything on that side for twenty feet aft and then disappeared, and we could see the water rushing in below.

" 'Close the water tight doors!' the second engineer shouted. Within ten seconds this was done, every one of the five hand screwed doors being shut as tight as a drum. These should have kept the water from the rest of the ship, but didn't, for apparently one of the engine room bulkheads had been torn away. Then we began climbing up the iron ladder to the boat deck. The electrical apparatus had been put out of action immediately [when] the water came in, but a few emergency oil lamps were burning and it was not difficult to find our way up the 160 steps to the open air.

"Mr. Lagg at the risk of his life probably saved the ship from blowing up. While the rest of us were making our way to the ladder he rushed to the deck below and waded through water up to his waist to the main feed checks on the boilers and opened them all. Had he not done this the boilers must have burst when the rush of cold water reached them.

"When we got to the top deck we received our next order from the Captain. I helped to get Mr. Mooney's body and put it into a coffin, and also that of Mrs. Lynch. A shoe belonging to Mrs. Lynch was found cut in two as if by a sharp axe."

N. Y. Herald, Jan. 26, 09, 4:5

Above decks, a half dozen staterooms were reduced to rubble. Mr. Mooney and Mrs. Lynch were killed instantly; Mr. Lynch was critically injured.

Photo Caption: "This photo was taken on the Republic by Capt. Sealby's Steward, A. Lax. The bodies of Mrs. Lynch and Mr. Mooney lie in the wreckage on the Saloon Deck of the Republic. The figure on the left is the Carpenter's Mate, the figure on the right is the Carpenter. They have just been making soundings."

The Dead Discovered.

Then came the first respite I had had since the force of the crash had hurled me from my bunk. It was now getting light, and with the first streaks of dawn I was enabled to look about me and comprehend the damage that had been wrought, together with the extreme peril of our position. This was more vividly brought home to me when, glancing at the door just outside my wrecked cabin, I saw the mangled bodies of two passengers. The light was not strong enough for me to make out who they were or whether they were the bodies of men or women, but both were mangled beyond recognition, and for the first time I knew that human lives had been sacrificed in the crash of the fog-bound ships.

Capt. Sealby was on the bridge all this time, but soon after I discovered the bodies lying near me. Dr. Marsh came along, and, after examining the bodies, announced that both had been killed outright. Blankets were stretched over the two still forms [seen in photo], and a little later they were laid in coffins. It was not until a roll call had been made that the identity of the dead was established.

John R. Binns, Republic's Radio Operator
NY Times, Jan. 27, 1909, 1:7 to 2:1

R.M.S. Republic, photo taken from Baltic
the morning of January 24, 1909.

The FLORIDA, an Italian registered vessel, reportedly lost in fog and 30 miles off course, had also penetrated the REPUBLIC's engine room and extended the damage to below the waterline. The REPUBLIC's portside quadruple expansion engine breached a longitudinal bulkhead which separated her two engine compartments. One of five watertight doors on this longitudinal bulkhead was carried away and both engine compartments began to flood. The REPUBLIC's boilers were immediately shut down to prevent explosion, which resulted in the loss of all motive and electrical power, except the electrical power remaining in her storage batteries for limited use of the wireless telegraph. Emergency lighting was not available.

Three crewmembers, asleep in the forecastle of the FLORIDA, were also killed.

[After the Florida arrived in New York,] The bodies of the three dead of the Florida's crew were prepared for burial today. Two victims were mere boys - Balogero Martuscilli, sixteen years old, and Salvatore D'Amico, the fourteen-year-old cabin boy. The third, Pasquale La Valle, was twenty-three years old.
All but d'Amico were from Naples. He was from the region of the earthquake near Messina. Driven from home by that disaster, he was just starting in to work in the transatlantic trade.
D'Amico's body was recovered from the wreckage of the forecastle by the crew on the way into port. The two other bodies were not pried loose until last night, after the Florida reached her pier. All were mangled beyond recognition from the frightful crashing in of the forecastle.
The Florida's bow, which once ended in an overhanging arched yacht stem, is reduced to a tangle of twisted steel beams and crumpled plates, all the way from somewhere below the water line up and back for thirty feet. The whole forward end of the ship sloped steeply down into the water in a rough descent of wreckage.
With her bow reduced to a bouquet of scrap iron and nothing but an inner bulkhead between her and the deep sea, the Florida does not look like a safe traveler under present conditions.

Washington Evening Star, Jan. 26, 09, 8:2.

Within minutes of the collision, the Republic's Marconiman Jack Binns sent the "CQD" ("CQ" = "[Attention] All Stations," "D" = "Distress"), the predecessor to today's "SOS" distress signal, over the airwaves to the world at large. [See also: A history of "Distress Signalling."] Several ships responded. The world was awakened by the new technology, and was listening. The collision between the Republic and Florida became the world's first "live" media event.1

The Navy's first response to the news:

Navy Department officials at Washington say that the loss of the supplies will not embarrass the fleet, as they were in the nature of an "extra shipment" [?] for use in the event of an emergency.

Brooklyn Union Standard, January 24, 1909, 6:2

But, the US Navy lost, at least, its fresh provisions.

... 421 Tons of Government Provisions
Lost on the Republic.

280 carcasses sheep, 554 boxes pork loins, 340 sides veal, 600 cases frankfurters, 600 cases pork sausages, 205 cases bologna, 87 cases turkeys, 250 tubs butter, 500 cases eggs, 205 cases lunch meat, 816 quarters beef, 486 quarters beef, 147 barrels potatoes, 991 crates potatoes, 100 crates onions, 526 half-barrels hams, 420 cases corned beef, 222 cases bacon, 250 cases hams, 167 cases salmon, 250 sacks sugar, 84 cases chipped beef. ...

Journal of Commerce, January 26, 09, 1:2

And the US Government may have lost as much as another 230 tons of other cargo.


Naval Paymaster Must Buy More to
Replace Those Sunk on Republic.

VILLEFRANCHE, Jan. 24. – As a result of the sinking of the White Star steamer Republic, Fleet Paymaster McGowan left here hurriedly to-day, for Marseilles. On board the Republic were 650 tons [Bold emphasis supplied.] of provisions for the American fleet, and Paymaster McGowan will endeavor to duplicate the consignment or purchase a sufficient quantity to serve during the homeward trip.2

NY Times, Jan. 25, 09, 3:5

NICE, SUNDAY - Sixteen thousand sailors of the American battle ship fleet, now scattered at various Mediterranean ports, are deploring the loss of 650 tons of fresh provisions, which were part of the cargo of the Republic.
These stores were to have been landed at Negro Bay.
Fleet Paymaster McGowan, of the flagship Connecticut, left Villefranche tonight for Marseilles to duplicate the stores if possible or purchase a sufficient amount to last the fleet on the homeward trip to America.
1 It is due at Hampton Roads on February 21.

N.Y. Herald, Jan. 25, 09, 4:2.


1 The Republic-Florida collision "marked the opening of a new epoch in the history of news dissemination. It brought home to people who ordinarily are not unduly interested in events beyond their own immediate horizons something of the drama of life over the curve of the earth. Not only did wireless play its part in aiding stricken ships and saving life, but the whole civilized world was kept acquainted with the acts and scenes in the drama as they were actually happening, and he who bought the numerous editions of the daily newspapers as they came on the streets was able to follow hour by hour the sequence of events, with all their doubts, fears, hopes, suspense, and eventual triumph almost as closely as if he watched them happening before his eyes." R. L. Hadfield, Sea Toll of Our Time, H. F. & G. Witherby, London, 1930, p. 101.
2 Almost immediately after the loss of the Republic and her Government cargo, Fleet Paymaster McGowan acquired transport from the flagship, then at Villefranche, to Marseilles where he negotiated the provision of food stores sufficient for the Fleet to complete its cruise to Hampton Roads, in the amount of 247,060 francs ($47,682.58). The contract required the pay officers of the respective ships to pay upon delivery "according to the prices hereinbefore stated, in French gold; provided, however, that payment for the provisions delivered to the U.S.S. GEORGIA, U.S.S. NEBRASKA, U.S.S. NEW JERSEY and U.S.S. RHODE ISLAND may be made in British gold at the American equivalent, (the pound sterling being worth $4.8665 and the franc being worth $0.193)." United States Atlantic Fleet, Contract for Fresh Meats and Fresh Vegetables at Marseille [sic], France, February 1, 1909, NARA RG 143, File 104151. This additional expenditure, too, is also NOT reflected within our analysis of the possibility of a loss of US Government funds, infra; the funds expended for this purpose may have required replacement once the Fleet arrived at Hampton Roads and, therefore, may also be a part of the $800,000 delivered to the Fleet upon its arrival in the US. See: Other Cargos, Navy Payroll and Operational Funds.